Tamal Mexican Food: Discover the Art of Tamale Making

Have you ever heard about tamales? Are you wondering what is a tamal?
Do you want to know the history of this traditional dish?
What is the importance of tamales in Mexico and how many types of tamales are?
How, of what are they made of, and how to prepare tamales?

Welcome to the fascinating world of tamal Mexican food! In this journey, we are about to understand the tradition and the art of tamale making. Let's get started!


What is a Tamal?

A tamal, also called a “tamale” in English, is a yummy Mexican dish enjoyed for a long time. It’s made from masa, a dough from corn mixed with lard or shortening. This dough is spread on a corn husk or leaf, filled with tasty things like meat or veggies, and then folded up. The tamal is cooked by steaming until it’s firm and ready to eat.

Tamales are something basic in Mexican culture since they are a testament to how important family and friends are for every Mexican. Different parts of Mexico have their ways of making tamales, with lots of tasty fillings and sauces, showing how diverse Mexican cooking can be.

mexican street food Christmas in Mexico
Traditional Tamales

Tamal History

Tamales have been around for a long time, going back thousands of years. They started in places like Mexico with ancient civilizations like the Aztecs, Maya, and Toltecs.

These ancient civilizations loved tamales because they were easy to carry around, lasted a long time, and were good for protein. At first, tamales had different stuff inside, like beans, turkey, or veggies. People cooked over a fire or steamed, which made them easy to take along when people traveled or went to battle.

Now, about the words “tamal” and “tamale” – it’s mainly about the language you’re speaking. In Spanish, you say “tamal” for one, and in English, it’s “tamale.” But they mean the same thing – a delicious treat made of corn dough with tasty stuff inside, all wrapped up and cooked.

Tamales have changed over time, picking up new ideas and flavors from different cultures like Spanish, African, Asian, and European. But they’re still a favorite in Mexico and Central America, keeping their special place in the world of food.

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mayan food
Indigenous Maya Women


In Michoacán, a state in Mexico, there’s a special kind of Tamal Mexican Food called “corundas.” These are like tamales but with a unique shape – they’re triangular, kind of like little pyramids. Corundas are made from masa, just like regular tamales, but they’re steamed in corn husks instead of banana leaves. They’re usually filled with savory ingredients like pork or chicken, and sometimes they’re topped with salsa or cheese for extra flavor.

Corundas are very popular in Michoacan since they are a must-try in every celebration and festival of this beautiful state. People gather to enjoy these delicious treats, which are often served with beans, salsa, and sour cream on the side. The creation of this tamal-type dish is also a way to understand family cuisine’s traditional methods in Mexico. Every recipe that has been passed through every generation, is a marvelous way to understand the culinary heritage of Michoacan and the creativity of Mexican cooking. Check out our post about spicy food! 🌶️

tamal mexican food (what is a corunda)
Traditional Corunda (Traditional Mexican Food)

Difference between Mexican tamales and other countries’ tamales

Mexican tamales are usually made with corn dough and have great fillings like meat, cheese, or veggies. They’re wrapped in corn husks or leaves and cooked in steam. They might feel a bit rougher compared to other kinds.

Tamales from other countries can be different because they might use other kinds of dough or fillings based on what’s popular in that area. For example, in Central America, they might be smaller and have fillings like rice or potatoes, while in South America, they might be sweeter and wrapped in different leaves, with stuff like raisins or coconut inside. Each country’s tamales have their special taste, showing off their unique food traditions.

south american food
South American Tamales

Importance of Tamales in Mexico

Tamales are super important in Mexico because they’re not just food – they’re part of the culture and history. Families often make tamales together during special times like holidays or celebrations, bringing everyone together in the kitchen. It’s a way to pass down recipes and traditions from generation to generation, making tamales more than just a meal.

In Mexico, tamales are also a big deal for festivals culture, traditions, and Mexican events. You’ll find them at markets and street stalls, with people lining up to get a taste. They’re a tasty treat that brings people joy and connects them to their roots, reminding them of the flavors and stories of their homeland.

🎄Looking for celebrations and cultural events in Mexico? Check out our tours:

tamales mexican food
Lady sharing tamales

How to Prepare a Tamal?

Ingredients: To prepare tamales, you’ll need masa, which is a dough made from corn flour, water, or broth, and a bit of fat like lard or vegetable shortening. For the filling, you can choose from a variety of ingredients such as meats (chicken, pork, beef), cheeses, vegetables (like peppers, onions, or beans), or even fruits for sweet tamales.

  • Assembly: Start by spreading a thin layer of masa onto a corn husk or banana leaf. Then, add a spoonful of your chosen filling in the center of the masa.
  • Wrapping: Fold the sides of the corn husk or banana leaf over the filling to encase it completely. It’s like wrapping a little gift!
  • Cooking: Steam the wrapped tamales until they’re cooked through and firm. This usually takes around 1-2 hours depending on the size of the tamales.
  • Enjoyment: Once cooked, unwrap the tamales and enjoy them hot! They’re perfect for sharing with family and friends. You can pair them with your favorite sauces or salsas for extra flavor.

Types of tamales

There are different types of tamales, each with its unique twist. Tamal hoja de plátano (banana leaf). This one is made by wrapping the masa and filling in a banana leaf. This gives it a distinct flavor and aroma.

Tamal hoja de maíz (corn leaf tamal), on the other hand, uses corn husks for wrapping, resulting in a slightly different texture and taste. For those following a vegan diet, there’s the vegan tamal, which omits animal products like lard or meat, instead using plant-based ingredients to create a delicious and cruelty-free version of this beloved dish.

It doesn’t matter if you prefer the traditional flavors or opt for the vegan tamal for a plant-based option. There’s a tamal for everyone to enjoy!

🍀Taste delicious veggie dishes with our: Mexico City Vegan Food Tour: a Delicious Journey in Roma and Condesa (3.5 h)

traditional food of yucatan cuisine dishes
Delicious Vegan Tamal


In simple words, Tamal Mexican Food is special to people all around the world. It’s like a yummy ambassador for Mexican culture! Mexicans have loved tamales since long ago, starting with ancient people, and are still loved for their tasty flavors and different fillings.

Tamal Mexican Food is also super flexible, fitting all kinds of tastes and diets. It shows off the best of Mexican cooking – it’s colorful, full of variety, and has a long history. Tamales remind us of the amazing skills of Mexican cooks and how food can bring people closer together. Each bite is like a journey through Mexico, showing how food can connect us no matter where we come from.

Informative Video

Tamal Mexican Food: Old-School Recipes

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